WSJ's claws come out for Ron DeSantis

Reactions to Ron DeSantis's controversial answers to Tucker Carlson's questions on Ukraine came fast and furious.  Every one of his potential rivals, including Mike Pence, Nikki Hailey, Chris Christie, and many others, came out denouncing the governor's position.  So did the leftist media — but they are not being honest about what the governor's position actually is.

With Ron DeSantis yet to announce his presidential run, he is already much farther ahead in the polls than his main rivals, aside from Donald Trump.  The governor's popularity and ability to deliver for the party are unprecedented in recent history.  So far, his policies have been so effective that his opponents have had no lines of to attack against him. 

The governor's comments on Ukraine were the first "controversial" (by conservative standards) move he made in four years.  That caused the Wall Street Journal editorial board to conclude that it was his "first big mistake."  But was it "a first big mistake," or was it just the first issue that Republicans don't universally agree on?

Here are a few quotes from the WSJ.

Then how to explain his puzzling surrender this week to the Trumpian temptation of American retreat?

That statement itself is puzzling, considering that President Trump never advocated for "American retreat."  His foreign policy was smart, calculating, and aggressive.  The world's worst actors, like Putin, feared him — and thus, under Trump's watch, the world was much more stable.  If the WSJ needs a definition of  "American retreat," all it has to do is look at Obama's and Biden's foreign policy blunders.  Whether you believe that Putin would have invaded Ukraine with Trump in office, Trump's foreign policy successes are hard to deny.  If Mr. DeSantis (or any candidate) did embrace Trump's foreign policy, he would be wise in doing so.

That's not too strong a way to describe his decision to call the war in Ukraine a "territorial dispute" that isn't a vital U.S. interest.

Democrats immediately labeled Mr. DeSantis's comments as describing the Russian invasion as "territorial dispute" — but it is, at best, a loose interpretation of his words.  While the governor would have been wise to clarify his statement, he was arguably talking about the Donbass conflict, which was defined as such for years.  While the WSJ may disagree with his definition, misrepresenting his words in a way he never meant them is not an honest way of disagreeing.

Moreover, defining a conflict as "not a vital U.S. interest" is in no way "a retreat" or "isolationism."  Very few people would argue that every conflict on Earth is equally vital for the U.S. to be involved in.  Saying that some conflicts have higher priority is not "flirting with isolationism." 

If you argue that a deranged villain with a nuclear arsenal does indeed present a danger to the world, I share your view.  I agree that deterring Putin is a vital U.S. interest, and I disagree with Mr. DeSantis and other conservatives who think otherwise.  However, before I accuse any of them of "isolationism," I want to understand what policy they are proposing. 

In his comments, Governor DeSantis criticized the current policy, but he stopped short of proposing a policy of his own.  In that, he did not act at all different from the people who are now criticizing him.  Considering that a state governor likely lacks the intelligence necessary to define foreign policy.  That was not in any way disingenuous.  The governor, quite simply, gave as ambiguous an answer as he could possibly give, which is the opposite of what the media are accusing him of.

Mr. DeSantis drew the line at giving Ukraine offensive weapons — and this is not a controversial position.  Do other Republican candidates who criticized the governor support this policy, knowing that it will likely lead to the deadly escalation of the conflict, resulting in many more casualties?  None of the candidates went on the record saying that.  Instead, they chose to denounce another candidate in very general terms rather than articulating their own specific proposals.  While I disagree with some of the language the governor used, I will withhold my judgement until he, and other candidates, unveil their specific goals, and the means to achieve them, vis-à-vis Ukraine.

[DeSantis] called for "peace," albeit without explaining how to avoid making it a peace of the grave for Ukrainians if the West withdraws its support while Vladimir Putin advances.

Any kind of "peace" in Ukraine requires at least some (and likely heavy) U.S. involvement.  I don't think that if you are honest, you would suggest that what the governor means by "peace" is surrendering a sovereign country to an evil dictator.  To me, hearing "without question, peace should be the objective" is way more reassuring than financing a bloody war with no end in sight, which is the policy of the current administration.

Mr. Biden hasn't helped public support for Ukraine by tethering his case to bromides about democracy and international "rules," rather than the U.S. national interest. ... He also hasn't made a dispassionate case for why keeping an adversary like Mr. Putin off the NATO border and degrading his military power makes the U.S. safer. Mr. DeSantis has a point that Mr. Biden doesn't have "defined objectives" in Ukraine — other than giving it enough arms to resist but not enough to drive Russia out of the country. This is a recipe for extended conflict.

The WSJ is correct in pointing out that Biden's Ukraine policy has been an abject failure, at least as far as explaining it to the American people.  If Republicans are not on board with his policy, it is solely the fault of Mr. Biden.  He utterly failed to articulate how billions of dollars in aid has helped Ukrainians, has brought the war closer to the end, or what "the end" even looks like.  An inept president who made a habit of lying to his people, and demonstrated complete incompetence at solving any problem, would be better advised than expecting people to blindly trust him with handling a bloody war.

While many prominent Republicans are attacking Governor DeSantis for his comments, it is safe to say that their own policy prescriptions for ending Ukraine war would not be very different from the governor's as it stands today.  It will become quite clear when the debates roll around and the candidates will be asked for concrete proposals rather than vague slogans.

This could become less a policy issue than a matter of character. What does Ron DeSantis believe, anyway?

If you follow Governor DeSantis closely, as the WSJ clearly does not, the suggestion that he lacks character, that he believes in appeasing evil dictators, that he will ever advocate for "American retreat," or that he will ever "surrender to Trumpian right" — or anybody else, for that matter — sounds outlandish and grotesque.

Tanya Berlaga is a freelance writer, translator, and a publisher and is currently a contributor to Right Wire Report, The Liberty Loft, and Free Speech Movement.

Image: Ron DeSantis.  Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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